It is designed to move passengers at close to the speed of sound: the Hyperloop. In international competitions, students of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have already demonstrated that they can build passenger pod prototypes that leave their competitors far behind. Now they will team up with scientists in a research program intended to make the super-fast train a reality. The program will involve, among other things, building a 24-meter test tube and a full-size prototype.
The Hyperloop is a transport system concept for a high-speed train moving at close to the speed of sound in a tube maintained at a partial vacuum. It was first proposed by SpaceX founder Elon Musk. In the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, student teams from around the world were invited to compete with their pods - as the passenger capsules traveling through the tube are to be called.
In every running of the competition to date, the TUM Hyperloop team has come out far ahead of all competitors. The TUM students posted the current record of 482 km/h in the most recent contest in July 2019.
But for the young inventors, it isn’t just about the speed: They are also studying how the Hyperloop can become a safe, financially feasible and sustainable mode of transport for the future. Among other innovations, they have developed a levitation system for the pod as well as a prototype for an ultra-rigid concrete tube.
Their commitment has not gone unnoticed: The TUM Department of Aerospace and Geodesy has now announced a Hyperloop research program to be funded under the Bavarian state government’s Hightech Agenda Bayern.
In the first phase, lasting two years, the program will initially conduct system analysis to investigate the feasibility and potential of the concept in Europe. It will also develop and test Hyperloop-related technologies. In addition, a test tube with a length of 24 meters will be built on the Ludwig Bölkow Campus in Taufkirchen / Ottobrunn along with a full-scale prototype capsule. The program will incorporate the expertise of various departments, including materials science, civil engineering and drive systems.
Among the leaders of the research program is Prof. Agnes Jocher, who was appointed to the professorship for Sustainable Future Mobility in July. "The Hyperloop has the potential to offer a fast, electric-powered alternative on medium-length routes. That would facilitate more sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation," she explains. "However, more research is needed to test that assumption. For example, the production and set-up of the system need to be taken into account."
Gabriele Semino has been part of the TUM Hyperloop team since 2017 and has traveled to Los Angeles for three of the competitions. He is now involved in the program as a research associate. "The contest involves prototypes built mainly for speed," he says. "In this program we will now be working on a comprehensive and scalable system covering every aspect, including cost-effectiveness, sustainability and safety. The knowledge of Hyperloop issues and in prototype construction that we have gathered over the years will be indispensable to us, however."
Unlike the previous prototypes, the planned "demonstrator" should be as large as a possible future passenger capsule. "Our last prototype weighed less than 70 kilograms. Now we’re at several tons," says Semino. The test tube, including the foundation, will be more than four meters high.
The concept will be initially validated using a demonstrator. A longer test run is planned for a later phase of the program.